Engagement in the Era of Dragons

*Warning* Only read this article if you are up to speed with Game of Thrones! *This article contains Game of Thrones Seasons 1-7 spoilers!

Navigating every day relationships can prove challenging, even for the most conscientious and high-energy among us.

Are you smothering a friend by inundating them with phone calls? Is your aloofness off-putting to coworkers? Is your Uber driver silent because they don’t feel like chatting, or are they waiting for you to engage them in conversation?

But contemporary—and, um, real—relationships are a breeze compared to those juggled in Westeros. Good luck maintaining your social graces when the crown is at stake, dragons are freezing left and right, you’re evading a hoard of White Walkers, and winter is coming (or might already be here).

Fortunately for us modern humans, we have tools like The Seventh Level Engagement Framework to better understand existing relationships and improve them by fostering more meaningful connections. Unfortunately for those inhabiting the Game of Thrones universe, the Seventh Level won’t be developed for almost 2,000 years, in an entirely different, non-fictional reality.

But that’s not going to stop us from retroactively applying it to the gradual development of the wildly meandering Jon Snow-Daenerys Targaryen relationship!

Starting at Seven

Before we start, let’s quickly recap what we mean when we talk about the Seventh Level.

It’s an engagement framework that encourages users to think intentionally about what they stand for, how to communicate it clearly, and unlock meaningful engagement in the process. It also provides a methodology for evaluating the quality of engagement, from total disinterest all the way to evangelism.

Per the Framework, when it comes to connecting with others, it’s important to first understand your personal values and beliefs. So let’s break it down and start at seven, as it pertains to Snow and Daenerys Targaryen:

  • Jon Snow: cares deeply about his family, doing the right thing, and well, saving the world.

  • Daenerys Targaryen: cares deeply about her family (yes, her family just happens to be comprised of dragons), doing the right thing, and dismantling institutions standing in the way of claiming what’s rightfully hers: the crown.

Once you’ve identified your own values and beliefs, then you can purposefully connect with others, but sometimes it still takes time to achieve the desired results… which is the case with Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow, henceforth abbreviated to DT and JS, respectively.

Level I: Disengagement

When you’re avoiding or idle from a task at hand, you’re disengaged.

JS wants to save the world from White Walkers but initially, DT thinks he is full of crap, refusing to call him King of the North. When he first goes to her, she is disengaged. She avoids truly connecting with him and is disinterested in hearing what he has to say—especially when he first arrives at Dragonstone and she is sitting on the throne asking him to bend the knee. JS also is disengaged, refusing to bend the knee.

DT has enough on her plate already. She doesn’t have time to deal with this traitor who she believes is breaking the faith with House Targaryen. It’s crucial at this level to recognize who you are trying to talk to and how you are earning their trust, which JS slowly starts to understand.


Level II: Unsystematic Engagement

Unsystematic engagement is marked by confusion over messaging.

When she eventually does reluctantly hear him out, DT simply does not get JS. Why won’t he just bow down? Why is he being so annoying and stubborn? Does the army of the dead comprised of those White Walkers even exist? Is that Night King he’s droning on about even real?

It’s crucial at this level to start to speak the same language. And Tyrion Lannister is the master at getting past the unsystematic engagement level of engagement. He is the translator between many key leaders, particularly JS and DT, who both trust him.

Tyrion tells JS, “you both protect people from monsters.” JS starts to see that DT isn’t bad, she just doesn’t believe him, so it’s on him to show her that what he is saying is real.

(Speaking of unsystematic engagement and confusing you by the messaging*, we opted to consistently call her Daenerys Targaryen, as opposed to Khaleesi, breaker of chains, mother of dragons, etc.)


Level III: Frustrated Engagement

You want to connect but you’re distracted and can’t.

JS doesn’t hate the idea of Daenerys Targaryen getting the crown, he is just a tad preoccupied with thousands of White Walkers coming to kill everyone he loves.

He tries to be respectful of her ambition, but if you think it’s difficult to maintain a relationship these days with distractions like Tinder, Raya, and Instagram at your fingertips, imagine having to reckon with the impending demise of humanity?


Level IV: Structure-Dependent Engagement

Structure-dependent engagement is engagement that relies on clear instruction.

JS needs the Dragonglass located on DT’s rightful land, Dragonstone, and DT needs the North on her side. After DT and JS find out what’s at stake for each of them, they strike a deal.

DT lets JS mine the Dragonglass to make weapons to kill the White Walkers. Tyrion helps this relationship move forward as he encourages JS to ask for something reasonable to which DT complies. Her stance toward JS is softening, but only because he’s prompting her to.


Level V: Self Regulated Interest

People at this level are genuinely excited about something, but primarily out of self-interest.

DT gave JS permission to mine the DragonGlass because it required next to nothing on her end. But with it came the tacit understanding that JS was to become an ally and finally bend that pesky knee. It wouldn’t hurt if he could help her defeat Cersai while he’s at it.

At this level, trust has been demonstrated by DT, so now it’s JS’s turn to make a sacrifice. So he goes North of the Wall to capture a White Walker as proof of their existence. All with the intention to unite the Seven Kingdoms and gets Cersai off of DT’s back, to boot.

He makes a sacrifice to prove to DT that he is willing to meet her needs. They’re becoming closer with every minute, and they are interested in the other person, but at the end of the day, it’s still a matter of “what can you do for me?”


Level VI: Critical Engagement

The sixth level is marked by the audience becoming inspired to set goals to transform their lives.

DT starts to believe in JS and assumes the risk of saving him and the others from the White Walkers. She tells Tyrion—who begs her not to—that she did nothing once and she “can’t do nothing again.”

She has changed because JS has convinced her that the White Walkers are real, and that sacrificing everything for all people is more important than even the crown. And that’s why DT and her dragons show up to rescue Snow & Co. from certain death at the hands of the White Walkers. Nothing matters except killing these monsters.

The very act of saving JS only inspired DT further. Meanwhile, JS, shirtless and knife-wounded, is inspired through her heroics, and tells DT that she is “[his] queen,” and eventually even refuses to bend the knee for Cersai.


The Seventh Level: Literate Thinking

The final level, (the Holy Grail of engagement) refers to what we call “literate thinking.”

It’s where the guiding principles of two parties overlap so perfectly it’s like North Stars colliding. Both DT and JS are stubborn and go the extra mile to do what they think is right. But now they are now inspired to move forward in lockstep with their shared seventh level—saving the world—as their guiding force.

DT tells her team they are not heading North to conquer it, but to save it, and that she and JS will be doing so together. After several episodes worth of “will they/won’t they,” DT and JS have finally hit their stride.

They are fully on the same page about the issues of the crown and White Walkers, and begin to consummate their relationship—no longer is it a matter of quid pro quo. They are in it for each other, have fallen totally in love, and even introduce each other to their families.

JS meets DT’s dragons. JS brings DT home to meet his human family in the North, and well… they will likely soon find out via JS’s brother that JS might actually be heir to the Iron Throne Aegon Targaryen, making DT his aunt…

Whatever happens, we’re pretty sure we’ll find new ways to apply this framework again in the final season, in just 7 days (April 14th)!


4 Reasons to Cross-Pollinate and Cultivate Engagement: Using the Seventh Level Engagement Framework to Understand How Partnerships Help Brands Thrive

By Robert Fowler

If you even half-watched the Super Bowl this year, you probably noticed a Bud Light commercial that quite literally went up in flames. The ad, set in a sunny field where medieval characters have gathered to cheer on their Bud Knight during a jousting tournament ends with a Game of Thrones character—the Mountain—defeating the Knight. The Knight lies motionless on the ground as a large shadow moves across the crowd and one of Daenerys Taragaryen’s dragons hover over everyone, to breathe fire onto the whole scene.

This collaboration between Budweiser and HBO’s Game of Thrones displays that the trend of partnerships between big brands is alive and well. This co-branding strategy of two brands working together to create a shared product, campaign, or event has been around for over half a century, with jeweler Van Cleef & Arpels turning a new Renault model’s dashboard into a dazzling sight in the 1950s.

Why To Partner Up:

This kind of symbiotic partnership gets its staying power from the fact that combining two brands who have similar Seventh Level (which is the highest, most meaningful level of engagement) values means customers of both will find the shared output inspiring.

In other words, co-branding usually results in a starting base of Level 5 engagement from audiences of both brands. Presenting each brands’ customers with fresh messaging by combining their own brand principles with those of a new, invigorating voice is exciting for customers. A third, combined messaging rises out of the two distinct brand voices in a way that deepens both brands’ existing values and extends new ones into conversation. This piques audience interest.

It’s then the job of each brand in the partnership to offer shared customers a pathway that will lead them to Levels 6 and 7. When the brands work together to create inspirational messaging or stories out of the collaboration, customers are propelled into Level 6, to make active changes in their lives and achieve objectives set out for them by the partnership.

In this type of co-branded content, the holy grail of Level 7 engagement is unlocked when the new brand that’s being paired up with reveals new facets of organizational values that align deeply and personally with customers. Showing how and why one brand has chosen to partner with another can uncover both brands’ missions in slightly new ways, and make them even more aligned to the personal beliefs of both audiences.

In Real Life:

CatalystCreativ recently brokered a partnership between our client Biossance and Alo Yoga that functioned in just the ways we’ve outlined here.

We inserted a pop-up Biossance shop into Alo Yoga studios to get the attention of Alo Yoga in-store customers, and target the audience of a brand that might not know Biossance, but would likely be excited about intentional, mindful beauty products.

Then, we activated the pop-up in NYC by organizing an event at the Alo Yoga studio that combined yoga flow, meditation, and a beautifying class into one session. After centering their bodies and minds with meaningful movement, guests then received samples of beauty products to test and learn about. The messaging at this event was designed to inspire the audience to make space in their lives for yoga and a beauty routine that makes them feel great about themselves.

In the same way that cross-pollinating plants of the same species leads to a new variety of plant that contains the best qualities of the original two, the cross-pollination of brand values can be lasting and effective, to the point of converting consumers of one brand into active loyalists for both.

4 Ways Brands Can Create Bold Event Experiences for Millennial Audiences

You know those days when you receive 10 holiday party invitations on paperless post and have no idea who any of the people are that invited you? Or when you receive Facebook event after Facebook event that have nothing to do with your interests? Everyone is inundated with event invitations, which is why it is so important for brands to create experiences that not only attract the right people but engage them when they are in the room.

At CatalystCreativ, we pride ourselves in creating experiences that are highly engaging and help brands tell their story in a more impactful way. One example of how we do this is by including education, inspiration, and storytelling into one experience. We have worked with brands such as Dell, where we identified 7 local citizens in Austin changing their local city and the world. By authentically creating this connection between individuals and how technology impacted their life, we were able to create a compelling conversation that shared Dell’s role in an authentic way.

According to the Cause Marketing Forum, companies are spending 1.84 billion dollars on cause marketing campaigns. Why? Because Millennials want to interact and engage with brands that care about the world. CenterforGiving.org reports that Millennials are much more likely to trust a company that is socially responsible (83%), as well as purchase from a company that makes a difference, (79%). 

This is all wonderful news, but how do brands actually create experiences that share the impact they are doing in an engaging and compelling way? Here are four lessons that every brand should implement to stand out from the competitors and keep their target demographic coming back for more. 

Start with an objective that makes sense to your audience

The event you create and the people you choose to speak on behalf of your brand must have a shared connection with your values. You may have a big name speaker or partner that promises to “get you online engagement,” but if they are not authentically connected to your brand, it will not be a success. It is crucial to identify how to match the right speakers and partners to your brand’s core messaging.

How we did it: We created experiences called Catalyst Week every single month in partnership with the Downtown Project, in Downtown Las Vegas, (think TED for Millennials). Each month we’d have a different theme, and identify speakers that really fit that theme. Some of our past themes out of the 20+ events we produced have been centered around redefining education, health and wellness, and women’s empowerment. Each month we’d identify unique speakers, who fit that theme. The same speaker does not work for every experience, it is really about finding speakers who can authentically share the mission and vision of the theme in a way that is speaking from their heart.

Think outside the box

While this may seem conventional, it is crucial. When people get invited to hear a brand talk about their impact, they don’t want to just sit and listen. They want to feel heard. They want to feel immersed in the story and become a part of the experience by sharing their own stories. 

How we did it: We worked with Ekocycle and Global Citizen Festival both in NYC and Atlanta and provided an opportunity for Millennials who attended to share their thoughts on the new face of sustainability. We created an open forum type experience where we had panel speakers share their visions and then gave time to really share with each other with what they learned.


Invite the local community

Always invite local community partners to be a part of your events, whether they are local food and beverage partners, or local speakers that may want to attend or even give a talk. It is important to make the local community feel just as important as the global community that you are trying to reach. By tapping into this grassroots connections, you are in a position to share your message in a more authentic way.

How we did it: We had an event in Paso Roblas for a client, HeartYN, where we took over a fairly dilapidated barn and completely redid it to become a space for a barn dance launch party. HeartYN is all about learning how to be a better neighbor, and so we invited “neighbors” in to be a part of the experience. We worked with a local catering company that had a big footprint in that area, as well as a local winery. We also do this in Vegas every single month by including small business owners as “small business spotlights”, bringing attendees of Catalyst Week to different businesses around town and allowing for the owners to share their story in a compelling way.

Don’t forget the human connection

While social media is important, creating authentic, interpersonal human connections is even more crucial. When guests are present enough to truly engage, they are far more likely to share online. You want to create experiences where people want to connect with each other before they grab their phones to connect with their followers.

How we did it: When we worked with NPR, Generation Listen, we created an experience in the NPR West Office around a listening party. The main point of the experience was to introduce millennials to public radio in an inspiring way. By having a live viewing of “Ask Me Another,” audience members volunteered to participate, cheered, laughed and were a part of the show. By adding elements that ask people to be involved, they don’t want to sit there on their phones tweeting the whole time, they want to be present.

In sum, whatever experience you create, add a bit of humility, humanity, authenticity, and vulnerability into the mix. We always ask our speakers questions before they speak like, “what was a pivotal moment that changed the trajectory of your life?” or “what did you want to be when you were 8 years old?” By asking people who they are and not necessarily what they do you open them up to form connections with each other that matter. No one brand knows everything, so why not include your audience in the conversation? The more opportunities you create to engage and make your audience feel heard, the more likely you are to bring them from bystanders to brand ambassadors.

4 Things to Know about Generation Z

There’s no doubt you’ve heard of Generation Z while scrolling through news on up-and-coming trends. They’re the group right behind Millennials and were born between 1997-2003. Even as Millennials continue to dominate the U.S. workforce, the research shows Generation Z will outnumber Millennials by 2019.  

If you’re not already related to one, you will work with or even hire one soon enough. It’s important for your brand or business to know who they are and what matters to them because this generation has already made their voices loud and clear — they’re determined, conscientious, and competitive.

So, what’s to know?

1. Generation Z does not know a world without Google.

Gen Z’ers are the first generation who are true digital natives. They grew up around touchscreen technology and early voice-controlled electronics. Even when it comes to smartphones, 95% of teens report they have one or access to one. Studies also show that 45% of Gen Z teens now say that they are online on a near-constant basis.

2. Which has made them better at multitasking.

This group grew up using personal laptops provided by their school and then conducted research at home using a tablet while watching TV while intermittently responding to different group chats on their phone. Generation Z’ers are multitasking wizards who will ultimately get the job done. 

3. They’re hustlers.

They have a strong self-starter mentality, with over half (52%) admitting that they already have a passion project on the side, with 59% of those polled saying they are hoping to turn this into their main income stream in the next year. Gen Zers who are freelance writers and bloggers lead the way in side hustles (33%), followed by running themed social media accounts (23%) and vlogging (23%). (Source

With these passion projects and side hustles, this generation holds value-driven experiences in the highest regard. If you’re lucky and really connect with them, they’ll snap a million photos or create a fun 30-second video about it that you can add to your content library!

4. Relatability is key.

Gen Z are drawn to stories they can relate to and seek more interactive and personalized ways to shop. They’re tired of being sold to and can see it from a mile away. Even though they don’t hold as much expendable income, they do have buying power in the home. A one-time ad isn’t going to sway their opinion about you or your product - Generation Z are looking for deep, meaningful connections with brands that align with their personal values and beliefs.  

The world around us is constantly changing. We not only have a lot to look forward to, but also a lot to learn about the cohort of individuals who are shaping nearly everything about our day-to-day. Keeping these traits in mind and having some shared perspective could help you welcome Generation Z into different parts of your life.

4 Ways to Increase Retention Rates Among Millennial Employees

There’s a lot of chatter about Generation Z, but when it comes to the workplace — Millennials are still the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. Millennials are just as driven by the “why” as they are by the “what.” They need more than a bottom line to motivate their work; they must feel holistically motivated, inspired, and engaged, and must know that their work contributes to a greater purpose. At the same time, Millennials are known for high turnover in the workplace--they rarely stay longer than a couple of years, which can be costly and disruptive for companies. To avoid this financial drain and loss of talent, it is critical that managers understand what it takes to retain Millennial employees. Here are several strategies that companies can employ to do that. 

1. Know what matters to Millennials.

It may not be just a raise. Allocate your resources to target what a Millennial employee really wants--this is the most effective and efficient use of company resources. Millennials are not one generalized group; they all have individual needs, and this focus on individualism is another characteristic of their generation at large. Not sure what they want? Ask them. Millennials grew up in an environment of customized experiences (for better or worse) and will be more likely to stay if they're asked about their personal needs and feel that these needs are being addressed. Thus, to retain them, you need to ensure that you are asking them what they want and delivering individualized experiences for them. 

2. Involve and evolve.

Companies must make sure that Millennials take part in as much of the company as possible. Give them ownership and involve them in leadership. Provide opportunities for growth, regularly check in with them about their progress, and make sure you are communicating with them as often as possible. Companies must evolve as the employee grows personally and professionally. They must provide new opportunities for Millennials to learn and grow, opportunities that are uniquely created for their skill set and interests. At CatalystCreativ, we are constantly asking our employees what would make them happier, be it a leadership course, a mentorship session, or a 30-minute call just to check in with them. If you can't provide employees with in-house training or development opportunities, create systems that allow them to pursue growth opportunities they deem valuable. Not only does this give them a stake in their personal progress, but it also provides them with the knowledge that the company will actively support and invest in them to further their personal growth.

3. Remember that perks without purpose aren't enough.

Millennials must feel like their work is valuable. More important than a Ping Pong table and stocked kitchen (although those things don't hurt) is the feeling of working on something that is bigger than any one person. Companies that clearly define their mission, vision, and values create an opportunity for their employees to buy into a larger sense of purpose and community. Millennials want to make the world a better place, and they want to work for companies that are aligned with this. By demonstrating and creating opportunities for Millennial employees to be involved in mission-driven activities (philanthropic and otherwise), companies enhance engagement on a deeper level, creating a sense of loyalty and decreasing the likelihood of turnover.

4. Be flexible.

Millennials want freedom and flexibility. They crave experience more than assets. They want to see the world and learn about themselves through global exploration. Create systems that allow them to work remotely, or travel often. If they have experiences outside of the normal workplace while still working on behalf of the company, they are less likely to look outside of your company (perhaps to a different company) to achieve these experiences. Instead of seeing this as an impediment to normal work operations, look for events or experiences that will create shared value for the company and the employee. You may be surprised by the results--a study published in the Harvard Business Review found that employees who work remotely were happier, more productive, and less likely to quit.

If a company is to succeed, it must have a thriving workforce. Since Millennials are now the majority of this workforce, it is critical that managers understand how to retain, inspire, and engage this unique and often misunderstood generation. By identifying their key values and goals, providing leadership and growth opportunities, connecting them to a larger purpose and mission, and providing them with freedom and flexibility, managers can stave off the tide of departing Millennial employees, saving precious talent, time, and money for the company.

Building an Engaged Audience

The word “engagement” is overused.  Everyone is focusing on “online engagement.”  Brands, nonprofits, individuals — everyone wants to improve their online presence and measure engagement to prove what they are doing is successful.  But how do you actually measure engagement? How do you know what you are doing is working? What tools do you use? How do you build a solid foundation to ensure your message makes sense to the human beings behind the social media profiles?  

I studied engagement during my Masters year (in Curriculum and Instruction) before engagement was cool.  My colleagues and I studied it in students, based on their behavior in and outside of the classroom. We created metrics to measure engagement (using Bangert Drowns and Pyke’s seven levels of engagement) and were able to assess how it’s identified and even how it’s increased.

It wasn’t until after I graduated and jumped into a career in events and marketing that I realized you could actually use these levels of engagement outside of the classroom, in marketing. I realized you can use the seven levels to target a specific demographic around a brand, mission, values, or whatever you are really “educating” the public on.  

I use the word educating, because it may not seem like education and marketing have a lot in common, but in reality they are one in the same.  In order to engage your audience in a way that is compelling and walk them through the seven levels of engagement, you have to understand that engagement comes in many forms. There is more to it than you either “are” or you “aren’t.” 

Being that there are seven levels, it is important to note that disengagement and frustrated engagement are actually a part of the engagement scale, and not separate. Have you ever been on a customer call with a massive company that refuses to treat you like a human, and then you happen to get one amazing customer service representative that decides to change the way you feel entirely about the company? That is a perfect example of bringing a customer up a level, from frustrated engagement to structure-dependent engagement.

For a brand, it is the worst possible thing to throw your name on something without real intention behind it. The days of “sponsorship” are over. An integrated partnership between brand and experience has to co-exist in order for it to make sense. Intentions must be clearly defined and the audience educated around a topic that matters to them. 

Brands have voices, on and offline and in order to know how to use them, they have to start looking at themselves as teachers, their digital presence as the classroom, and their audience as the students.

It’s crucial to recognize that you have to take responsibility for the lack of engagement and see it as an opportunity to connect more authentically, not ignore it. 

Engagement can seem complicated, but the step that most miss is the opportunity to bring someone who is uninspired and disinterested into a new conversation. The second you make a person feel listened to, respected, and then share your vision with them based on the words they told you is the second that person will become an ambassador for your brand, not just another twitter follower.

Learn more about CatalystCreativ’s proprietary engagement framework, adapted from the work of Bangert Drowns and Pyke, The Seventh Level Engagement Framework at www.the-seventhlevel.com.

10 Tough Lessons I learned about Becoming An Entrepreneur

There are a lot of awesome things about going to work for yourself. You make your own schedule, you get to work from anywhere, you can decide who you work with and what projects you take on, you get to create a culture that is in line with your core beliefs and most importantly you get to put something in the world that is a product of you.

There are a lot of things that no one warns you about before people take the leap to be an entrepreneur. Like how most of us wrap ourselves so deeply in our work and let it define us; how we throw ourselves so head first into the fire, we don't think about getting burned; how our relationships, emotions, and exhaustion come second to our employees, our clients, and our investors; and how the money coming in is a product of everything we put out and everything we put out is a product of us. I have a lot of conversations with entrepreneurs, want-rapreuners and those who are in full-time positions with large companies looking to leave and start their own initiative, and everyone is pretty much asking each other the same questions.

Before they jump, I like tell people a few things that I have learned and am constantly learning every day. While I try to do everything on this list, there are still days where I forget to eat until 3 p.m. and have to call a "lifeline" for advice and support. But these are the most valuable lessons I've learned so far:

1. Take some time to just think about what you want for your life. I don't mean your 800 new awesome business ideas, I mean your life. What does your ideal life look like? What are your priorities? What is important to you? How much money do you need to make in order to make that happen? While it's great to have mentors and guidance, it's useless if you don't have a foundation to be anchored to. If you don't know what you want for yourself, then I don't think you should be putting anything out there in the world until you do. The world of entrepreneurship is becoming an integral part of our economy, it is not a science experiment. Don't just create because you like the idea of something. Find a need in the world, match your gift to it and then create.

2. Find a wellness-related, consistent hobby in your life that is not work-related. Meditate, surf, Soul Cycle, walk outside, do yoga -- whatever you want, but make sure you are doing something that is connecting you to “you” and to your body. I love to work and had to find a time in my day to do something for me. It is not healthy to always be on. As an entrepreneur, you are always grinding, always on. You are doing interviews, pitches, advising, consulting, having to be a good boss, close rounds, create business plans, and oh yeah, also have a life "outside of work." When you are your work and your work is your life, if you don't have a sacred moment for just you, you will lose yourself.

3. Create a trusted network of people to go to when you need advice. Once you decide what you want to create in the world and have taken the time for yourself, choose a handful of people whom you can call in case you feel like your world is crumbling and no one can possibly understand what you're going through. These individuals should not all be on the same level as you successfully. They do not have to be people on your advisory board. They are lifelines. Choose people who are either on the same page as you success-wise, one step ahead or 20 years ahead, do not turn to people for advice that have not started a successful company. Anyone can be an entrepreneur, but not everyone is a successful entrepreneur. Surround yourself with people who know what you're going through because they have overcome it themselves.

4. Stop talking about work. When I'm out at an event, a date, a situation that is not work-related, people ask me what I do and I tell them in 5 sentences or fewer, then I change the subject. I am so passionate about what I do, I could talk about it for 5 hours, but instead, I take down the person's information and set up a time to meet with them to talk about work. As an entrepreneur, you make your own schedule which means if you wanted to you could always be on. Separate the “you” as a person with the “you” as a boss. It is totally OK to be a human being.

5. Don't look down, but hire people whose job it is to be on the ground always. Entrepreneurs don't have time to think of failing. They keep working day in and day out and keep grinding to make sure they can pay their employees and continue to grow as a company.  Sometimes it feels like they live on another planet. They start speaking in a language of world take domination, but they forget to go to the dentist. Hire people you trust to remind you of the menial tasks and minute details that are necessary for any business or personal life to be sustainable.

6. Breathe. Don't ever lose sight of why you are doing what you're doing. And if you don't love it, figure out what you do love and change paths. You may not realize that you can hire someone to run a company you created that you may not love, and work for a company you do. Don't sit on someone else's dream by staying in a job you hate. Even if you created that job in the first place if you aren't happy its OK to figure out ways to change your role and figure out what will make you happy.

7. Surround yourself with people you love and respect. Do not let people who can hurt you too close. You have to be at your best, your clearest mind to be able to do your job as an entrepreneur, which is to be you and create something beautiful in the world. If you're busy stalking someone on Facebook and fighting with friends who don't get it, separate. You are your biggest commodity.

8. Recognize that sometimes your reality doesn't align with others' realities. We all talk to each other, but in a business where people whose self-worth is wrapped in their work, it is hard for us to really hear each other. We have our own understanding of our reality, of our story and easily get defensive, and emotional because we are our work. When someone insults you or says something you think is wrong, listen to them. Take time to ask them questions of why they feel that way and realize they may be right, and if they're wrong they may need someone to help them sort through their problem.

9. Communicate as much as possible...to your clients and to your employees. I don't mean on interviews and press mentions, save those for when you do something that has earned this right. I mean to the people you are doing business with and the people you love. Be clear of what you're asking, pick up the phone and call people, make time for those whom you need to make time for, those who have made sacrifices to work for you and with you. Be clear and prioritize who these people are: your coworkers, your family, your board of directors. Be clear and concise with your plan of action, deliverables, production and always make time to see your grandma.

10. Last but not least, love yourself, know yourself, put in the time for yourself. You will be defending yourself to many, selling yourself to even more, and you better be sure of why you are doing what you're doing and who you are because not everyone is going to agree with you all of the time. Most of the time, you will have to pitch yourself in less than a minute, before someone gets a text. You will tell people things that frustrated you with work, only to hear it come back to you as gossip. If you don't love yourself and invest in yourself, don't think anyone else will want to either.

How to Transform Your Culture to Increase Engagement

In a society that values strength, independence and self-reliance above all else, why express yourself? Why go out on a limb to reveal anything other than the highlight reel you post on social media in any situation, let alone in the setting where it could cost you the most: at work? 

As it turns out, it could pay off in a big way.

Corporate robots are a dying breed.

In today's professional landscape, people want to bring their whole selves to work, even if doing so would break from the norms of "professionalism." Millennials want work-life integration, not just work-life balance, meaning they're not going to leave their emotions at home and send a cold, feeling-less, in-control-at-all-times automaton to the office in their place.

The insane precedent we've set for employees to remove so much of themselves from their professional lives is not only unhealthy for individuals; it's also costing their employers in huge ways, even cutting enormous chunks out of corporate bottom lines.

By creating a workplace that does not allow people to share who they are, employers are essentially ensuring widespread workforce disengagement and high turnover.

I have a (somewhat) radical recommendation to overcome this massive issue: Cry at work.

So, you want my employees to be crying -- in the office?

Yes and no. In a perfect world, your employees would be perfectly balanced in their workloads and satisfied in their roles. They would never feel overwhelmed or dejected, and the need for showing negative emotions in the office wouldn't exist.

We all know that's not the world we live in. With the insanely fast pace of business these days, it's likely that your team is going to feel frustration, anger, sadness and a whole host of other unpleasant emotions in the office.

I firmly believe that allowing, and even encouraging them to process these feelings outwardly is essential to having a successful business.

Here's a personal example so you can see that it's not as scary as it seems.

One experience during last year's holiday "break" led me to the brink of exhaustion. My team and I thought most people would be offline, but instead, our clients were in need of assistance, and I ended up picking up a heavy load because we hadn't planned accordingly. I was working until the late hours every night during a week I had planned to spend with my family, and I was frustrated. This was directly impacting my health, and I was putting my professional success in front of my own personal and physical wellbeing. 

After the holiday, during our weekly check-in, I expressed this frustration with the entire team. I cried during this call, explaining that I had felt really alone and like I could not really depend on anyone. I empathized that I knew everyone worked so unbelievably hard and that we all needed this break, but ultimately we hadn't set ourselves up for success. We had to work harder and smarter so that we could truly take a well-deserved break and be present with our loved ones and ourselves.

The team responded immediately, and not only understood my perspective, but jumped into shape to do the work. In the end, we were able to satisfy our clients' needs and set aside a time of rest for all of us, including myself.

Sometimes tears are the most productive solution because, not only do they show your humanity and rally your colleagues to support you, but they encourage authentic communication.

OK, I get the picture; now what do I do?

There are so many strategies you can try to create an expressive, engaged workplace in which everyone can show how they really feel, but the ones I recommend starting with are:

1. Encourage expression.

Create an environment where people can openly share their emotions, whether that's an all-team happy hour when a new client is won or encouraging employees to vent their frustration on a tough day. Sometimes, this even means making employees feel safe enough to cry in the office.

A 2001 study by Vanessa Urch Druskat and Steve B Wolff found that teams who score high on tests for emotional intelligence (or emotional quotient, EQ) perform markedly better than those who score poorly. "Our research shows that, just like individuals, the most effective teams are emotionally intelligent ones."

And they aren't the only ones preaching the EQ gospel. Their findings have been replicated by hundreds of workplace and emotional researchers and published in dozens of peer-reviewed journals.

One of the most effective strategies that my company, CatalystCreativ, has used to help businesses create a more empathetic and expressive culture is teaching ways to foster traditionally "feminine" traits above more "masculine" ones. By valuing and expressing traits such as receptivity, surrender, vulnerability, and tenderness, employees of all genders show higher rates of engagement and job satisfaction, and companies themselves perform better.

Think your male managers won't go for it? That would objectively be a bad choice. A 2011 study conducted at Stanford examined feminine and masculine traits in male and female employees and compared these traits to their rates of promotion compared to their peers. The results were surprising: Men who showed what the study referred to as “feminine" traits got two times the promotions of their traditionally “masculine” peers. 

Those workers able to blend feminine and masculine traits in the workplace tend to excel beyond their peers, and companies that encourage this expression among all employees will reap the financial rewards. 

2. Reduce stress.

Although all workplaces today are somewhat stress-inducing, those that discourage emotional expression are particularly problematic.

By not crying or sharing emotions, employees are bottling in stress. I could site literally thousands of sources explaining that stress is horrible for health, and most people are now aware of its awful effects, which extend to harming work productivity.

Professor Roger Baker, a clinical psychologist, and professor at Bournemouth University in the U.K. claims that "crying is the transformation of distress into something tangible, and that the process itself helps to reduce the feeling of trauma." And he's not the only one who feels this way.

William Frey, a biochemist at St Paul-Ramsey Medical Center, found that tears contain the stress hormones prolactin and adrenocorticotropic hormone, meaning that crying literally flushes stress-causing chemicals out of the body.

If you're still unconvinced about allowing, and even encouraging, your employees to cry in the workplace, consider this: Stress costs U.S. companies $300 billion per year, due to health care and missed work days alone. And while eliminating all stress is impossible, allowing employees to process and express it is the only way to reduce its negative effects on your business. 

So, if you're reading this as an employee, go big. I encourage you to show up to work as your whole self every day. If you're an organizational leader, I hope you recognize the absolute necessity of creating a more open workplace for your employees. One in which they can celebrate, laugh, talk about their real selves and yes, even cry.


Interested in bringing these ideas to your company?

Contact us for next steps on how to create an engaging workplace.

Brand Strategy for the New Generation Z


Figuring out a brand strategy for the new generation begins with understanding who the new generation is. When I was a first grade and middle school teacher, I was blown away by “Generation Z.” Generation Z is 19 and under, and makes up 25.9% of the economy. My two favorite moments of teaching provide insight into how brands must target the new generation of Z’ers and learn to speak their language.

These moments occurred with my middle school students, who are now 22 years old. In order to get closer to them and make them feel like I wasn’t just some old, antiquated teacher, (i.e. the same situation many brands are in right now), I had to listen carefully to them. They were used to sharing who they were, and being able to create their own conversations through content. They introduced me to a book series none of my friends had heard of called “Twilight” and told me about this new kid they saw perform at the mall named Justin Bieber.

I consider Generation Z the “insider trading” of what’s trending. They create the trends. They create the movements. They care about what’s going on in the world, and they believe that they can make that difference.

Here are three key lessons from Generation Z that brands can learn from.

Born in the Digital Age.

Generation Z’ers (and Millennials) know more than we do about technology and innovation. They were born using iPads instead of pacifiers. They know how to navigate YouTube as if they built it. While this is a generalization, they use technology to connect with each other and the world, rather than using it as an escape from the world. When talking with them, brands ought to recognize that they can learn from this generation, rather than telling them what it is cool.

Holistic Connections.

They want to be immersed in experiences that take them outside of what is comfortable. They aren’t looking at their future as a perfect shiny opportunity to become a doctor or lawyer and have great healthcare, they are looking across the world at their peers they connect with on Snapchat and Whatsapp and want to figure out ways to have deeper, globalized connections. They see different cultures, foods, stories, experiences and want to become a part of all of it. They would rather spend money on traveling and sharing Instagram photos of the new meal they tried rather than be paid big bucks to sit in a cubicle.

Building a Community.

They want to be heard and want to actively participate in what’s happening in the world. They don’t just want to tweet, they want to lead. They want to act, they want to share their stories and learn from each other. They want to show the world that they don’t need to be stuck in this existence the past generations have created for them, they have the ability to shape our future and they don’t want to listen to those before them who messed it all up.

All in all, I’ve learned immensely from my time teaching Generation Z - starting when my first graders told me to move over so they could show me how to use the smart board, to when my middle schoolers were showing me what was cool years before it was cool. I learned to listen to them. I learned that they know more than adults do, that they are tapped in, in an entirely different way. They get it. They do not want to be sold, they want to be a part of the process, and they want to feel like what they are purchasing, choosing, or being a part of is created by them.


The 5 Marketing Lessons We’ve Learned in 5 Years


Five years ago, CatalystCreativ set out on a journey to help the people and brands we admire tell their stories. We’ve learned so much in that time, all thanks to the experiences we’ve had with you.

We thought we’d pass along the five biggest lessons we’ve learned along the way, and hope that they can be as meaningful to you as they have been for us!


  1. Brands are the best teachers in the world, they just need the right curriculum to teach their consumers about what they value.

    We learned this in our partnership with Life is Beautiful festival, the largest inner-city music festival in the nation. Each year, CatalystCreativ curates a speaker series that engages thousands of fans to learn from headliners such as Bill Nye, Stacy London and Rupaul. Learn more about our work with Life is Beautiful here.
  2. Without exception, the greatest resource of every organization is their team.

    We love helping teams to optimize their internal resources and create alignment so they can do their most powerful work. Learn about our strategy and internal brand acupuncture workshops with organizations such as Juran Consulting, a 75 year old consulting firm that wanted a brand refresh.
  3. Although creating impeccable work is of vital importance, the true magic happens when teams go above and beyond on a personal level.

    CatalystCreativ is thrilled to serve as the transition team for the Raiders as they move to Las Vegas. We have developed meaningful relationships with the entire Vegas Community who has come together to support the Raiders, and we can’t wait to see their continued growth. Learn more about our Raiders events here.
  4. Creative strategy should first and foremost be true to the DNA of the organization.

    No creative output will be effective if it isn’t rooted in the authentic ethos of the brand. Our recent #2000Reasons campaign with Biossance resulted in over 2,000 people sharing their reasons for taking better care of their bodies on Facebook and Instagram, all because it was a values-based ask.
  5. When organizations activate from within, they create movements that can catalyze world change.

    We are honored to work with some of the leading nonprofits that are actively contributing to a better world. Most recently, we have partnered with WildAid to connect marine professionals all over the globe to join together in protecting our marine life. Learn more about their revolutionary digital tool here.


Above all else, the biggest lesson we have learned is that we could never have come this far without the support of clients and partners like you. Thank you for all of your support, and for helping to shape who CatalystCreativ is today.

In celebration of our fifth birthday, we’ve applied all the insights that we’ve gained to our own brand, and are thrilled to share our new visual identity and ethos that represents how far we’ve come.


Here’s to the next 5 years!